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Concept Note and Call for Papers for Summer School - 2018

Theme: Global Agricultural Value Networks and Contract Farming in the

Contemporary Global South

15 19 January 2018, Harare

The main theme of the forthcoming Summer School 2018 extends the primary concerns of the
Summer School 2017, which explored the diversity of labour questions in the Global South,
to focus primarily on the countryside and, in particular, the functioning of corporate and
contract farming, and the associated global agricultural value networks (GAVNs). There will
also be a secondary focus on the extractive industries and associated value networks which
often operate alongside agriculture. The ascendency of the so-called Global Commodity
Chains (GCCs)/Global Value Chains (GVCs)/Global Supply Chains (GSCs)/Global
Production Networks (GPNs) in the recent decades is generally well acknowledged. This has
happened across all major sectors of the economy, from the extractive and industrial to the
service sectors, and agriculture is no exception in this regard. In fact, a handful of global firms
and corporations have come to occupy significant power in the agricultural value networks
around the world in several activities, which include inter alia retail chains in final products,
supply of agri-inputs such as seeds, pesticides and fertilizers, and research and development.

Agricultural Value Network: Mechanism

In a very simple/literal sense, the global agricultural value networks (GAVNs) include a set of
actors, linked in a sequence of activities, which add value in bringing/supplying a product
from its raw material stage to the final consumer. Such actors range from large international
and domestic corporates/business houses, agribusiness companies, public and private research
and development agencies, trading and procurement agencies, etc. on the one hand to farmers,
peasants and landless labourers on the other. Activities of such networks are facilitated by the
government agri-policies as also by the powerful international institutions. As is also well-
known, in the recent years multilateral agencies have often emerged as strong advocates of
promoting the so called responsible investments through such GAVNs. These reports often
provide very optimistic accounts of GAVNs and the champion the role of big corporations in
different ways e.g. as suppliers, distributors, traders, R&D facilitators, buyers of agricultural
produce and marketing strategists, etc. These rosy accounts overlook several adverse
outcomes and processes associated with the ascendency of GAVNs including loss of
biodiversity, accelerated land alienation, concentration and control of resources,
disappearing livelihoods, weakening of food security etc. in large parts of the developing
world. In tandem with, the ascendency of neo-liberal macroeconomic policies, the growing
power of oligopolistic corporations has created huge distress in several countries in Africa,
Latin America and Asia. Extreme manifestations of what is akin to agrarian crisis in some
countries include, for instance, suicides by farmers in India.
Conceptually, in the GAVNs, as in any GVN, core dimensions of the embedded relationship
among the different actors hinge around business/work/labour relations and distributional
issues. Although, juridically, different actors in value networks appear to be independent of
each other, but in reality are entangled in highly unequal power relations. Whether it is
economic transactions relating to inputs or outputs, it is the lead firms, which call the shots,
and farmers, peasants and agricultural labourers are at the receiving end. Analysts often
distinguish between vertical and horizontal relationship in these value networks: the vertical
relationships generally denote the hierarchy of actors, essentially to capture the underlying
power relations, e.g. from the lead firms to the final producers such as farmers, peasants and
agricultural labourers. The horizontal relationship, as the term denotes, is essentially about
relationship between those who are on a similar footing. These vertical and horizontal
relationships in the GAVNs are critical in influencing distributional outcomes as well as the
conditions of workers, including their employment and wages, and the ecological challenges
which they face. The world of work for the majority of such producers consists of fragile and
vulnerable conditions and overwhelming majority of them make a living through a collection
of diverse economic activities, spanning agricultural and extractive activities, across rural and
urban areas and international boundaries. One may, justifiably, quibble over fine-tuning of the
relevant concepts, but it would be hardly off the mark to consider this large and
heterogeneous segment as being co-terminus with Marxs Relative Surplus Population (RSP).
Given the scenario briefly sketched above, the Summer School 2018 will engage with the
relevant questions and issues, focusing on the world of labour with respect to GAVNs,
corporate and contract farming, and the parallel extractive activities. Potential participants in
the forthcoming Summer School are encouraged to examine the different dimensions of the
structural/systemic issues of GAVNs in countries of the global south. Gender dimensions
associated with all the relevant themes should be kept in sharp focus. The persistent gender
segmentation of productive and reproductive work in the agrarian political economy and
gender inequalities in access to and control of resources have meant that farmers, peasants and
agricultural labourers do not experience GAVNs in gender neutral ways, particularly in a
context of extreme social differentiation. Therefore, the gendered experiences of actors within
GAVNs have to be accounted for both as a cross-cutting theme and in its own right. We
therefore encourage contributions, which address the gender dimensions of all the proposed
thematic areas.
As already indicated, topics could include conceptual and empirical discussions of the
following for different countries and regions:
1. Formation and growing power of oligopolies in GAVNs;
2. Historical antecedents of colonial plantations and post-colonial state farms
3. The bargaining power of different actors in GAVNs;
4. The dialectics of the quantitative and qualitative attributes underlying corporate and
contract farming, nationally and globally;
5. Growing Corporate power on output and input markets and their implications for
6. Gender and social differentiation in GAVNs;
7. Extractive industries and the role of small- and large-scale mining;
8. Implications for food security;
9. Implications for ecology;
10. Emerging conditions of work and workers;
11. Alternatives and resistances to corporate agriculture.
In sum, all these issues, to be deliberated in the proposed Summer School would seek to
reflect on some of the major challenges and key concerns associated with contemporary
capitalism, the development of GAVNs and other value networks, and the question of labour
with a focus on the Global South. As always, it will bring together leading as well as young
scholars from diverse disciplines as well as activists, from Africa, Latin America, and Asia in
order to engage with the complexities of the labour process at the current juncture.
Interested scholars are invited to submit paper proposals or abstracts (not more than 300
words) no later than 30 June 2017. Authors of selected papers will be requested to develop
their full papers by 30 September 2017 and will be invited to participate at the 2018 Summer
School in Harare (funds permitting). Some of the articles may also be selected for publication
in the Agrarian South: Journal of Political Economy and normal peer review process will

Paper proposals should be submitted to Walter Chambati: and copied to

Professor Praveen Jha: